The Electric List is your advance warning system for new talent and bold thinking in the chaotic, colliding worlds of fashion, art and culture.
This carefully curated list features original content and in-depth interviews with change agents creating a revolutionary new vision of the world and the way we live now.
Every month we will present unpretentious and fearless individuals whose values and philosophies coincide with those of CMPLT UNKNWN
and whose efforts, as epic or modest as they may be, are shaping a better future. The Electric List is your free hook-up to intelligence and coolness today and tomorrow.
Words and photos by Nusrat Durrani
One of the most inspiring moments of TED:DREAM this year was Amanda Nguyen walking on to the TED Fellows stage to speak about her experiences as a victim of sexual assault and her epic fight to introduce legislation that would dramatically upgrade the rights of sexual assault survivors.
Amanda is the president and founder of Rise, a millennialdriven national nonprofit working with state legislatures and the U.S. Congress to implement a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights. In her capacity for Rise, she has Congress.
Amanda’s start in public service began at NASA where she worked on the last space shuttle launch, publicprivate partnerships and the Asteroid Redirect Grand Challenge Mission. She has also worked at the White House in the Offices of Public Engagement and the Chief of Staff, at Morgan Stanley in public finance investment banking, and at the HarvardSmithsonian Astrophysics Center analyzing the Kepler exoplanet mission. Amanda graduated from Harvard University. During college,she created the first studentwritten course in the school’s history and cofounded Wema Children, an orphanage in Kenya.
When she is not fighting for survivor rights, Amanda is also the Deputy White House Liaison at the Department of State and a 2016 TED fellow. She is 24 years old. We spoke to her on one of her fleeting visits to New York, over bagels sandwiches, earlier this year.
Who is Amanda Nguyen?
I am a pathological optimist. I believe in the power of hope and that hope is contagious. Ultimately, I get things done. Be it through innovating a social movement through data, fighting for civil rights on the ground or in Capitol Hill, or looking at the sky to find exoplanets, I solve the problems I set out to fix. I am a zealot for radical compassion. I am a dreamer with a theory of hope. I spend my life testing this theory through thoughtful analysis and kindness.
Harvard graduate, NASA, State Department and Morgan Stanley employee, TED Fellow and founder of Rise, the national millennialdriven nonprofit... there is fantastic range in your interests and achievements... what do you think is the source of these very diverse passions?
I want to understand the world around me. I want to make it a better place. It starts by exploring multiple interests. If Elon Musk can create diverse companies like PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla, then I can have multiple interests.
Your courage and determination led to House Resolution 230 which was introduced in April 2015 and is tantamount to a Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill Of Rights that would radically upgrade the rights of victims of sexual assault across the USA. What were the experiences that drove you to undertake such an important but huge task?
I remember walking into my local area rape crisis center. There were so many people. Then and there I understood that my story is not mine alone. There are 25 million survivors in the United States and no survivor has comprehensive civil rights. These millions of survivors are struggling to navigate the legal labyrinths and patchworks of rights in a broken justice system.
Two survivors in two different states should not have two completely different sets of rights. Justice should not depend on geography. I have listened to the struggles of survivors from different communities across America. Through datadriven, comparative analysis of state laws and policies, as well as meeting these survivors, it was made clear that there is a huge, but fixable, problem. My goal is simple and clear: comprehensive civil rights for survivors. Fix the patchwork of rights. Take the rights that already work in some states and put the best practices together so that everyone has equal rights under the law.
Rise, the nonprofit you founded is millennialpowered and a new kind of social innovation platform. What do you hope to achieve with it? What implications can an empowering platform like Rise have on sexual assault victims in other countries where cultural norms and taboos place an even greater burden on victims of sexual abuse?
Rise was founded from one mass email and outreach on social media. Within two months from that mass email, the team wrote and filed the bill in Massachusetts. In four months, the bill became a model for change in other states. After five months, we found ourselves in the halls of the United States Congress and introduced our first US Congress piece of legislation with 51 bipartisan Congress members as sponsors. This April our US Senate Bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and since then, 13 more states have picked up the bill. It is my hope that other people can see this model – that change is accessible with these tools in our modern society. The most powerful tool we have is our voice.
What do you think organizations and the general public can do to help RISE?
Over 100,000 people have shown their support by signing my peition at Change.org/rise. We have a fundraiser here which is almost at it’s goal of $20,000: http://chn.ge/1SWBgHk. Rise has a donation button on our website. All of the donations go directly to the work that we are doing. We're an allvolunteer staff and we are extremely passionate about what we do. The barrier to make this change is low, so the return on investments is immediate.
You have said you are “pathologically optimistic” about the future. What gives you such hope?
It can be hard to get excited about bettering the world, when the problems, the conflicts and the solutions surrounding its improvement are as convoluted as they are today. When the criminal justice system is so broken and using 19th century practices for a 21st century world. If it seems sucky, I feel you. I know firsthand the failings of the justice system. But I still believe in the change our legislative process can bring. I am pathologically optimistic. But I want my experience to show people that we have a choice. We always have a choice. You don’t discover a preexisting future. You create the future. I hope people create a future that they are proud of living in. We are participants not spectators. Participate in shaping the forces that govern your life. It is possible. It does not matter where you come from you can change our country.
We are in an election year in the USA what would you like to see in the future President of the United States?
There is a long, rich tradition of activism in America people taking their painful living truths and channeling it into justice. We continue to battle inequality, which is just part of the larger ongoing struggle for human rights. There is still so much work to do on so many fronts. But I battle inequality while simultaneously celebrating this country. I celebrate how far our country has come. I celebrate the dedicated individuals who have fought to deepen the meaning of freedom to form a more perfect union. I celebrate, with a deep sense of gratitude, those who continue the fight, like the survivors and allies in Rise who arm themselves with nothing but moral courage and the conviction of civic duty when they walk into a Senator's office and open up to strangers about why these laws should change. I celebrate that they are met with a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The next President of the United States should never forget this – that he or she serves the people.
Shifting gears, you have also expressed your ambition to be an astronaut. What draws you to space travel?
Space is inherently risktaking and aspirational. When I wake up in the morning, I am driven by answering the questions: What is my place in the universe? How can I make the most of my time here? These questions lead me in my civil rights work and my astrophysics work. When I look up at the night sky and see the star light, I paradoxically feel both insignificant and special. I understand that I am but a blink in the eye of the universe yet, simultaneously, I understand that my existence is the result of an incredulously slim probability that worked out. That star light that photon travelled billions of light years to reach my eye. This makes me feel lucky to be alive.
What does sustainability mean to you?
When astronauts go into space, some experience the Overview effect. It is described as an overwhelming experience of seeing Earth for the first time. All humans who have ever lived or died is on this pale blue dot. Many astronauts express that from space you can’t see manmade borders, but what you can see clearly, is environmental destruction. Sustainability means recognizing we are all on this spaceship called Earth; we are on in this together.
What are some simple ways in which we can contribute towards a more sustainable world?
What are some simple ways in which we can contribute towards a more sustainable world?
You are an inspiration to many. What advice do you have for other millennials?
Some call us the selfie generation obsessed with hashtagging and vining, but seven out of ten millennials are social activists. Our generation, like Rise, is reclaiming the youth voice in politics and making sure that the issues affecting young adults aren’t being overlooked. Social media has lowered the barrier for young people to enter into advocacy. It gives us the tools to spread our mission in an engaging, authentic way.
Use these tools to amplify your voice – to tell your story. We are all living in a collective story. It is a narrative of progress. The problems we face are complicated and the solutions we need are not clear or easy. But because of this, it is everthemore important that we struggle, we aspire, and that we push ourselves to ask What will be the next thing that challenges us? What makes us work harder and go farther? What can I do? When you ask these questions, know, that you are part of the movement that gives us, as a people, a sense of how much better we can be.
What about the CMPLT UNKNWN brand resonates with you?
I love that it’s about being you. To me, it celebrates bold individuality.
Who are the people you admire most. Why?
I admire the crazy ones. The ones who get back up when they are knocked down. The ones who don’t take no for an answer when they know they are on the right side of history. At the end of the day, what drives me is being confident in what I’m fighting for and who I am. Rosa Parks knew that. Martin Luther King knew that. Sally Ride knew that. 15. What music, art, movies, designers, are you loving right now?
I’m drawn to things that challenge the status quo, especially if it pushes for progress and equality. I love Yayoi Kusama and Ai Weiwei. The newly restored Renwick Gallery across from the White House has a lovely exhibition called “Wonder”. Highly recommend seeing it.